Eighteen-year-old Dante Furioso stood near the flagpole outside Woodrow Wilson Senior High School yesterday morning, and a few minutes before 9 turned his back on the principal and led a procession of teenagers away from campus to a nearby Metro station.
This adventure in class-cutting was not for kicks. It was for a cause.
Furioso was one of a few dozen Wilson students who boycotted classes as a symbolic gesture against a potential war with Iraq. Most participants were from Wilson in Northwest Washington and neighboring Alice Deal Junior High School. About 100 Wilson and Deal students sat out some or all of their classes at an antiwar rally outside the Tenleytown-AU Metro station, said Furioso, one of the Wilson students who coordinated the rally. D.C. school officials estimated that 50 students joined the protest.
“This is a small sacrifice to make,” said Furioso, a senior.
What Furioso and other students had sacrificed was unclear. Wilson Principal Stephen Tarason said students who took part in the protest face undetermined disciplinary action for cutting class, with possibilities ranging from detention to suspension. Deal officials would say only that 15 to 20 Deal students attended the protest, some with their parents.
“I think the students have the right to protest,” Tarason said. “It’s always good for students to exercise their rights.”
Wilson teacher Michele Bollinger collected 25 faculty signatures on a petition opposing disciplinary action for the students.
The protest was timed to draw attention to this weekend’s antiwar demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere. International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), organizer of the upcoming events, said tens of thousands are expected for a march and rally Saturday, including scores of college and high school students who plan a second demonstration Sunday.
Many at yesterday’s rally said a U.S. military strike against Iraq would be unjustified and called for the billions of dollars that would be needed to fight a war to be put toward funding education. Several criticized federal laws that require high schools to provide military recruiters access to students.
“I think it’s really important that we’re doing something about [a potential war] rather than sitting in class talking about it,” said Deal eighth-grader Enise Conry, 13.
Students took the event seriously, holding meetings with Tarason, attending a training session on nonviolent protest and working with police on a march route. “I wholeheartedly do not agree with this war,” said Wilson senior Liz Gossens, 17. “Every part of me is against this. I would do almost anything to show how strongly I feel.”
Furioso said he was amazed at the turnout. When he and other Wilson students began planning the protest after attending an October antiwar demonstration, he said, they expected that it would become a “10- to 15-student operation.”
But yesterday, as students chanted and waved banners outside the Metro station at Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street NW, the event turned into something larger, attracting more students than expected, along with teachers, parents and other adult peace activists.
The students scribbled antiwar messages in chalk on the sidewalk, beat bongo drums in shivering morning temperatures and handed out leaflets promoting Saturday’s rally. The yellow-and-blue chalk messages read: “Books are good, guns are bad.” Handwritten signs read: “Bombing Iraq is so 10 years ago.”
During the rally and march, which ran from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., drivers of garbage trucks and passing cars honked their horns in support, to the cheers of students. One Wilson English teacher took students from her first-period class on a field trip to the rally, with their blessing. “We finished our Chaucer work, too, so the teacher’s happy,” said the teacher, Heleny Cook. District and Metro police kept a close watch on the rally, as did some parents and grandparents.
“I support it, but I want to be here,” said Mary Pat Rowan, mother of a Deal ninth-grade protester.
Just as supportive yet watchful was Michal Hunter, Furioso’s mother. “What better reason to miss a day of school,” said Hunter. “It’s a real life experience.”
© 2003 The Washington Post Company